Sunday, October 11, 2009

HORROR EPICS DOUBLE FEATURE: Hellraiser (1987) & Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988)

This year’s Horror Epics are shaping up to feature a lot of modern classic horror films that that took a considerably long time for me to appreciate. Hellraiser is no exception. I saw a lot of previews for violent action and horror movies on TV in 1987. Shoot ‘em up action had Die Hard, Predator, Robocop, and The Running Man on their side, to name a few. Horror movies included Angel Heart, Creepshow 2, Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn, The Hidden, Jaws: The Revenge, and A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors. Somewhere in the middle of all this came a trailer that topped them all in title alone: Hellraiser. To me as a nine-year-old watching TV, it looked like this Clive Barker guy had taken Freddy Kreuger to the next level. But when I finally saw it years later, I was bored and thought the story took longer to tell than necessary. (“You mean like the way you write?”) Although last year’s review of Nightbreed has contrary opinions of Barker’s direction, I’ve slowly come around to Hellraiser within the past few years. Watching it for Horror Epics 2009 has finally made me a believer once and for all.

Never tamper with things you don’t understand. A tourist in Morocco doesn’t keep that in mind when he impulse-buys an antique puzzle box and takes it home. Solving the puzzle leads to opening doors to realms most of us don’t wish to visit, and Frank the impulse buyer finds that out the hard way. Nerdy brother Larry and his frigid new wife Julia move into the house soon after. Lame Larry has no idea that his brother used to put it to Julia behind his back, and she clearly hopes for more of the same. Too bad Frank is nowhere to be found, at least until blood is spilled on the floor where he was killed. The life-giving plasma feeds his soul—conveniently residing under the floorboards—and begins to regenerate his body. We then figure out that Julia is one weird broad when she discovers Frank and is even more turned on by his skinless being. Frank explains that by opening the puzzle box, he allowed for a quartet of sadomasochistic demons called Cenobites to come forth and claim his soul. Now he’s having second thoughts. But he can welch out o
n the deal by feeding on fresh blood and restoring himself. In the interest of rekindling their affair, Julia agrees to assist Frank in quenching his thirst for blood. If that isn’t true love, I don’t know what is.

Before long, Larry’s teenager daughter Kirsty enters the picture. She’s already not too crazy about her stepmother, and any chance of the two making friends goes straight to hell when Kirsty finds out what Julia has been up to lately. Her meeting with zombie Uncle Frank doesn’t go well either. But not all is lost, because Kirsty snatches the puzzle box so she can have something to play with when she wakes up in the hospital later. Because she’s a child of the ‘80s, she solves the puzzle quicker than a Rubix cube. The Cenobites are summoned, and we’re totally expecting Kirsty to get ripped apart by flying hooked chains. But the Cenobites are more reasonable than they look: although they want Kirsty’s pretty little soul, they appear willing to settle for reclaiming Frank’s as an exchange.

Let the good times roll.

Still not a fan of Clare Higgins’ wooden performance as Julia, but I guess that was her way of portraying a frigid bitch. I guess the best way to pu
t it is that she had the frigidity down, but the necessary amount of bitch was missing. Instead, she’s just kinda there and boring. Otherwise, this is one of the best blood-and-gore horror movies out of this year’s selections. Don’t know why somebody came up with the bright idea to remake it.

Hey, those of you who were born in the
early ‘80s or before: Remember when hit movies stuck around for a while? And by a while, I mean much longer than a couple of months. Some movies would still be in theaters up to a year later, and I’m sure people older than I am remember that Star Wars stayed on the big screen for even longer than that. It was rare that a sequel would be released so soon after, but that was the case for Hellbound: Hellraiser II. You mean that after everything they did to make Hellraiser in the first place, they had enough energy to film a sequel already?

Always give the Devil his due, because they certainly had enough ga
s in the tank, creatively speaking. That’s not so apparent at first; a large part of the beginning rehashes most of Hellraiser’s best clips. But there is promise to be had in between the recaps. The Pinhead character’s unpleasant origins are revealed, and then we flash forward and pick up where we left off from the previous film. Kirsty is now a patient at the Channard Institute because the cops don’t believe her whacked-out demon fairytale of a story. But Dr. Channard takes a most keen interest in aspects of her crazy talk, even going out of his way to recover the mattress that Julia had previously died on. But it’s not in the interest of further believing Kirsty’s story, oh no. By sheer coincidence, the good doctor is fascinated with the occult and has several of those damned puzzle boxes in his possession. Channard brings Julia’s mattress home, sacrifices a patient on it and the bitch is back.

And wouldn’t you know it? She displays more personality as a skinless resurrected freak from hell than she did as a horny housewife. I’ll be damned.

Since the doc hasn’t had it since it had him, he’s more than willing to offer up the living to restore Julia to full physical form. His younger assistant witnessed her return, so he tells Kirsty what he saw and brings her back to the house. But then he has a little run-in with Julia that doesn’t end well. Kirsty is taken out of the picture for the time being as well. The next stage of Channard’s otherworld obsession is set when he returns with another hospital patient. This one is a little girl with a penchant for solving puzzles in short order. I’ll g
ive you three guesses what she’s here to do.

Let the good times roll.

Part II.

I get the impression that the filmmakers wanted to make up for the original’s slower pace and placate the impatient by having more “things” happen. If that was in fact the case, they certainly accomplished that goal. Hellbound has a lot to offer once it gets over being a sequel. Maybe too much. The film starts to lose itself in its M.C. Escher-like depiction of hell after a while, possibly compromising good storytelling. A more casual viewer would probably have to watch it two or three times to get everything straight. But why stop there? Since the first two Hellraiser movies are reviewed here as a double feature, it’s obvious that there’s no reason not to watch them back-to-back every time. The only thing that could be better is if Barker and company took cues from Francis Ford Coppola by re-editing these movies together much like The Godfather Epic did with parts one and two.

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